bruce bennett: have to get up in the morning, shoot a hockey game each day

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He’s been called, inevitably, the Wayne Gretzky of hockey photography, as well as the Einstein. Both are meant to measure and honour Bruce Bennett’s rinkside genius with a camera, of course; the latter pays additional tribute to his grey head of mad-scientist hair.

Whichever way you want to label him, there’s no disputing that Bennett, who turned 60 this year, is hockey’s pre-eminent modern-day photographer. Born in Brooklyn, New York, he got his first assignment for The Hockey News in 1974. By the end of last hockey season, he’d photographed 4,678 NHL games, along with dozens of Olympic, international, junior and college games. If you’re a hockey fan, it’s no exaggeration to say that most of the best hockey images you’ve seen over the past 40 years were formed and frozen in Bennett’s camera.

After 30 years in the business, Bennett sold his business to Getty Images, for whom he continues to shoot and oversee hockey coverage. For Hockey Greatest Photos, he’s chosen 246 images from an archive surpassing two million — “a monumental task,” he writes in his Backword here — to assemble what is a stunning scrapbook of hockey history.

As is usual for him at this time of year, Bruce Bennett has his camera in hand this fall and his eye on hockey players. When Puckstruck caught up to him late last week, he was en route from New York to Toronto for the weekend’s Hockey Hall of Fame ceremonies. Via e-mail, we questioned and he answered:

I won’t ask you outright what your favourite image is in the book (though you’re free to mention it), but what about this: is there one, to you, that best captures the essence of the game?

Wow. Good question and since there are 246 favorite images in the book, your twist works well. And at least I have a few minutes to page through and pick one. The logical conclusion of any sporting event is that there is a winner, and a loser. That is summed up with my photograph of Henrik Lundqvist, alone in the crease as the Los Angeles Kings celebrate their Cup victory around him. The essence of the perfect sports photo that captured jubilation and dejection. And number two, if you would allow me, is an image from last season as Alex Ovechkin dives to hit the puck past Lundqvist. To me the image summarizes the dedication, perseverance and tenacity that it takes to be successful in this sport. And seeing Ovechkin’s eyes following the puck is a bonus.

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Did you admire particular hockey photographers as a boy and/or as a young photographer? Your forebears behind a camera at the rink include many great names, from Turofsky to Bier to Brodeur. Is there one whom you especially admire? Is that a hockey photograph of someone else’s that’s a favourite of yours?

I was an Ansel Adams fan growing up and as I started my hockey career I became more aware of the hockey photographers around me. Among them was another Long Island native Joe DiMaggio who mentored me and I learned so much from him about photography and life in general. Then there was Mel DiGiacomo who was, and still is, a creative genius. He moved from hockey to tennis and then on to photojournalism and is the epitome of an “old master” shooting black-and-white images that tug at the heartstrings. And yes David Bier and Denis Brodeur were two guys who I admired as much for their willingness to share techniques and knowledge as I did for their immense talent.

How does hockey rate on the chart of hard-to-photograph sports? What’s the biggest challenge?

It would be easy for me to say it’s the hardest but I’m probably not one to judge since my experience with other sports is limited. But many other photographers have said that the combination of playing in low light venues, the speed of the game, its unpredictable nature and the poor photo positions certainly make this a real challenge.

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Have advances in photographic equipment made your job easier over the years? Anything that’s been lost along the way, or is it altogether better to be shooting now than in the 1970s?

I really can’t think of anything about photography that was better when I started. The natural evolution of the equipment, along with the entrance into the digital age has changed the profession in countless ways. Improvements in equipment included moving from manual focus to autofocus and then the continual improvements in autofocus, sharper lenses, and faster motor drives have been great advances. As for the digital cameras, the use of digital cards with the ability to shoot thousands of images before reloading, seeing instantly what you’ve captured (or missed!), and being enable to shoot high-quality images in lower light situations have all improved the craft of sports photography.

Is there a shot you didn’t get that haunts you?

Countless images lost — in fact a game doesn’t go by that I regret something I missed. I do remember one specific one maybe ten years ago but don’t even remember the teams. It is always important to fill the frame and get in tight. On this image I was filling the frame as two guys stood in front of the net. A floating shot towards the net came in very high and both guys lifted off like basketball players going to the net. And there they were maybe three feet off the ice … and I cut their heads off! But like a goaltender you need to clear your head when you miss one or you won’t be prepared for the next shot. Have to just shake it off!!

Do you play?

Nope. I played through high school and college and a few times a year for many years after that until I was about 40. Then at one pickup game after I miraculously moved around some guy, he dove and slashed me on my high school style shinguards. I realized then that I wasn’t that interested in playing anymore. Have to get up in the morning and be physically able to shoot a hockey game each day!!

Hockey’s Greatest Photos: The Bruce Bennett Collection
The Hockey News, Photographs by Bruce Bennett
(Juniper/ Simon & Schuster, 256 pp., C$39.95/US$34.95)

 

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this week: tonight even tanks won’t help

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Once A Dutchie: Denis Brodeur and his 1956 Olympic bronze medal.

Denis Brodeur died this week, the hockey photographer and Olympic goaltender and, of course, Martin’s dad. He was 82. “My father,” Martin wrote in his 2006 memoir, “learned how to play pool on top of an empty Coca-Cola box and didn’t start playing organized hockey as we know it today until he was 16 years old.”

It was Georges Mantha who asked him whether he wanted to play Junior B. His first Junior A game, for Victoriaville, he beat Jacques Plante’s team. He was small, 5’5”, 160 pounds, which may be why he never made it to the NHL but also there was the phone call he missed one night when the New York Rovers, a Rangers’ affiliate, were looking for an emergency goalie and when they couldn’t get Brodeur, they settled for Gump Worsley instead.

From @stats_canada this week: “7% of Canadians are getting tired of talking about hockey but don’t know how to stop.”

Denis Brodeur acquired (his son’s word) 113 stitches across his face over the years, playing mostly maskless.

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Viktor Zinger

Another old goalie who died this week was Viktor Zinger, who backed up Vladislav Tretiak during the 1972 Summit Series. He was 72. He played for CSKA Moscow and Spartak and he won Olympic gold in Grenoble in 1968. He also stopped enough pucks to win the Soviet Union five straight world championships in the years 1965–69.

Sports Illustrated predicted this week that it will have been Chicago over Pittsburgh for the Stanley Cup when the season’s all over next June. Sportsnet Magazine agrees. The Hockey News begs to differ: St. Louis will be the one beating Pittsburgh. Which is exactly what EA Sports thinks, too. They ran a computer simulation on their own NHL 14 game to figure it out and, yep, that’s what it’s looking like. A Blues defenceman, Alex Pietrangelo, wins the Conn Smythe Trophy, with Sidney Crosby taking the Hart as leading scorer; Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos winning the Rocket Richard Trophy by scoring 64 goals; and Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins getting the Vézina. Tampa Bay’s Jonathan Drouin gets the Calder as superior rookie.

Brodeur père was stopping pucks for the Kitchener-Waterloo Dutchmen in 1955 when they beat the Fort William Beavers to win the Allen Cup and, with it, the job of representing Canada at the Olympics in 1956. Bobby Bauer was the team’s coach. On the outdoor rinks of Cortina d’Ampezzo, the Dutchies wore sweaters white and woollen with a green maple leaf on the chest. Also, toques. Continue reading